The Vancouver Canucks are coming off of a 2021 season that saw them finish dead last in the North Division while also winning enough games to position themselves with the ninth-best odds of winning the NHL Draft Lottery.
General manager Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green spoke with the media via zoom for their end of the year address on Friday morning and many interesting quotes came out about where this franchise is headed in the next few years.
Benning began by giving an opening statement about this past season.
“I can safely say this season has been the biggest challenge since I’ve been in the business for forty years as a manager, scout, and player. This was a season like no other. I want to thank our players, their families, and our staff, who all made sacrifices and faced challenges, this whole season. As for the results, no one is more disappointed than me. I’m accountable and responsible as a general manager. What we saw last year the playoffs, is where we want to return to. We’re going to take a forward step again. We believe in our promising group of players. It’s an important offseason. We need to make changes. We will be exploring trade options, free agency and buyouts to help strengthen our group as a means to have more balanced scoring next season. Lastly, to our fans. I want you to know, we appreciate your passion and support. Ultimately, it’s what drives his team, and we can’t wait to have you back again at Rogers Arena next season.”
There were multiple times throughout the availability where Benning said that ownership has given his management staff all the resources to do whatever they need to do to get to where they want to be next season.
“We’re going to be aggressive in the trade front and in free agency,” said Benning. “We want to add speed and depth to our forward group. I thought maybe this year some of the players that we thought were going to take the next step in their development — Some of our 23-24-year-old guys that we thought would keep moving forward and taking more responsibility — didn’t happen, and that’s on me.”
This quote points towards the likes of Jalen Chatfield, Brogan Rafferty, Zack MacEwen, Adam Gaudette, Olli Juolevi, and Jake Virtanen crowd — the players Benning hoped could contribute to the NHL lineup but clearly still have work to do to become full-time NHL players.
Even with this team being led on the ice by their young group, Benning said the young core pieces need to still be surrounded by “veteran guys and some guys in that age group that can help them keep getting better.”
Earlier in the year, at Benning’s last media availability, he said that this team is two years away from being competitive. On Friday, he said that this team wants to compete for the playoffs next season. When asked about trading away draft picks to get the team closer to the playoffs, Benning said that the team would “explore all options”.
“If something comes up and it makes sense for us to try to figure out, that’s what we’re gonna do,” said Benning. “We’re not going to close ourselves off on anything. There’s lots of work to be done and we’re going to do the work. If things make sense, we’ll look at doing it.”
He explained his logic further when asked about this team being competitive for a playoff spot or competitive for the Stanley Cup.
“The first step is making the playoffs,” said Benning. “Once you make the playoffs, then anything can happen. Our young players get experience every year and they learn more and more. And as they continue to physically and mentally mature, then they get better. They understand what the playoffs are all about and how hard it is. You look at teams that have won the cup and it’s taken time to where they’ve developed that confidence in, and winning a round or two sometimes, they have hard losses along the way, and it makes them stronger and more resilient the next year when they’re in the playoffs, so I believe it’s a process but I believe first and foremost, it starts with making the playoffs and then as your team continues to grow and get better and more confident then that leads to competing for the cup.”
This team will always try to compete for a playoff spot but it’s more about building the best team possible for competing for the Stanley Cup instead of just a playoff experience. I get where Benning is coming from, getting into the playoffs is the first step but without more support coming after you make the playoffs, it closes the window just as fast as it opens and with an “anything can happen” mentality, I don’t like the way the future looks.
This team has so many great pieces and from the looks of the core, it’s a group that can compete for a long time. Benning spoke about adding speed and veteran leadership to the group so that they felt supported. These are all good things but his previous track record of adding to the young core has not given Canucks fans much trust to believe that he can allocate his cap space currently to give the young core a chance to be competitive.
That’s the biggest problem, we all just want to know the plan moving forward. Benning talked about buyouts and being aggressive in the trade market. That sounds like a team that is once again trying to turn things around quickly.
This team likely isn’t far away from making a push to the playoffs but there still needs to be a plan because unless everything falls their way, this team still needs multiple pieces to be a team that can realistically compete for the cup.
Obviously, what they went through this season was tough, hell, it was downright near-impossible to believe that many teams could have made a serious run at the playoffs after the COVID outbreak that the Canucks went through.
The question is how much Jim Benning can improve this team this offseason. The Canucks aren’t as bad as they showed this season but they need to improve in many areas of the ice. Vasily Podkolzin and Jack Rathbone are going to help, and I’m damn high on both of them as difference-makers in the NHL. Those two just won’t push the needle enough to make this team into a cup contender. Benning says the team will be aggressive in the trade market and they should be. With an expansion draft looming, there is sure to be some great depth players that can be added for cheap so that a team doesn’t lose them to Seattle for nothing.
I hope Benning has learned over his seven years as he now heads into his eighth season as a general manager. Hope and an “anything can happen” mentality just isn’t what Canucks fans want to hear. “Anything can happen” really hurt them this season and though it’s hard to believe that things could go worse next year, there is a possibility of another step back happening.
Benning needs to be better this offseason and he can be, there are things that need to be addressed and many positions that need to be upgraded. They will have a high pick at the 2021 draft and that player needs to hit for the Canucks as an added form of reinforcement for this team as they begin to get back into playoff contention over the next couple of years.
I’ll give Benning credit for his media availability today, he answered some hard questions and though he may not have given the perfect answers to all of them, he did his best at taking the blame for the past year of failure.
He was asked if he will be looking for a different type of player compared to the players that he has added in the past.
“We want to add guys that can support and supplement our top-nine forwards. We want to try to have three scoring lines. We’re looking at a different type of player. Players that drive offence, that can play with our other offensive players, we need to score more. We need to spend more time in the other team’s end. We can’t be on our heels, we got to be better in the middle of the ice, we can’t give up so many high-danger scoring chances against. It starts by spending more time in the other team’s end, that’s a start to where we want to get to.”
This organization chose to give Benning another life and though he has burned through many other ones in the past, there are some good pieces on this team to get them back into playoff contention.
Now, we wait to see how Benning and his staff do their business.
There can’t be any more running out of time or living day-to-day.
There needs to be a plan, the organization needs more smart hockey voices in their organization and they all need to be pulling on the rope in the same direction to give this young core a chance to be able to compete for the cup, not just the playoffs. Benning has made mistakes in the past but all general managers have, with him still at the helm, he needs to be better and to hear him take the blame for this season is a step in the right direction.
I just hope that he is surrounded with some smart hockey minds who can make this team competitive again. Last year’s run in the bubble was an indication of how good this team can be but that needs to be the norm and not the outlier. They were still severely outshot in the bubble and did not look like a team that was as good as their run may have shown.
Work needs to be done to get them to a point where they control the pace of play and don’t have to rely on unsustainable 0.940 save percentage goaltending to get them to a Stanley Cup Final.
Fans want a better team to root for.